Sometime in 1996 I was walking down Third Street in Bangor to my apartment when I heard some familiar music coming out of an open window. It wasn’t Alanis or Shaggy, or even the ubiquitous Ozzy barking at the moon, it was Bob Dylan’s 1966 double-album, Blonde on Blonde. The album was a new favorite of mine at the time, and I was stopped in my tracks under the window. Basically, I was thinking, “that’s my jam,” and I wondered who might share my appreciation for Dylan’s epic masterpiece. Then he appeared in the window.
A scrawny, strung-out, middle-aged fellow wearing only pajama pants regarded me from the second floor. His hair was wildly unkempt as he nodded at me with approval. I don’t know who or what I expected, but this dude seemed to be telling me I was on the right path, or at least that there was a path in that direction at all. To live outside the law you must be honest. I hurried on to my apartment.
A coffee shop opened that year in West Market Square, I don’t remember the name. What I do remember were the hours. It opened at midnight. This was a minor revelation at a time when, if you wanted to keep the party rolling into the a.m., your options were the Irving Mainway or Dysart’s. So, a crowd started showing up to this place to drink coffee and hang out late into the night. Run-aways, odd-balls, early goths, college kids, and regular Bangor weirdos filled the seats and spilled out onto the square to smoke.
The problem was that the area known as West Market Square was a park and closed at 10:00 p.m. This may sound crazy to the generation that hangs out in that square (actually more of a triangle) at night now, but the cops didn’t want us there. Initially they pulled up and yelled things like “Who wants to get arrested first?!” (actually a rhetorical question), but they eventually settled on the rule that people couldn’t stand in groups of three or more. The effect was to have this kind of enforced mingling that would come to be known as speed dating years later. If you were in a group of three and someone else walked up, you had to walk away and join a smaller group of people you maybe didn’t know, yet.
On one such night I was bumped from my group of three and approached two guys who were pretty ordinary except that one was carrying a large sword. Not a samurai katana, or a cutlass, it was more like a heavy, double-edged Viking sword. We hit it off immediately. Anyway, through the course of normal conversation I inquired if the sword could cut, say, this Mountain Dew can that was lying nearby, in half. I set the can upright on a planter, and he was only too happy to demonstrate the sword’s capabilities. With a resounding thud, the can was impressively crushed and cleaved. The square got dramatically quiet and all you could hear were the two halves of the Dew can rattling across the sidewalk. My buddy appeared at my side and suggested we leave right away.
Soon the coffee shop closed, obviously that couldn’t go on forever. Eventually there would have been a group of four people talking, and the chaos and anarchy that brings. There is so much going on in Bangor now, the idea that there was one spot to hang out once—which closed—sounds crazy. Still, I can’t help but wonder if Bangor has slowly gotten less weird, even as more is going on. Is West Market Square just filled with the would-be clientele of the Bounty Tavern and Pete and Larry’s, on loud display in a nightly frat party? I mean, I’m not looking for somebody with a sword, but where are the weirdos?
I was thinking about that guy on Third Street blasting Blonde on Blonde as I walked my dog around my neighborhood, probably because I was listening to the same album on my phone. It was cold and I was wearing a couple hoodies, sunglasses, and had an empty Target bag sticking out of my back pocket. My hair was maybe a little wild, and I walked with the gait of someone nursing two bad knees (the fiddler, he now steps to the road). Also, sometimes if I see an empty bottle thrown on the ground I’ll grab it because, hey, five cents. So I might have had a few empty bottles in my hoodie too. Anyway, a young guy came down the sidewalk from the other direction and when we passed I nodded as is the custom. He briefly made eye contact and then nervously walked away. Oh, I get it. The circle is complete. I can’t see Bangor’s weirdness because I’m too close to the source. I’m the weirdo now.